In the November election, voters will decide whether to approve a $3.5 billion bond for overhauling and repairing BART. The East Bay Times has been editorializing against the bond. Most of what they write is completely loopy. For example, complaining that the costs are not given in year-2065 dollars, or that households would pay more if interest costs were to balloon to 12% (if rates get that high, then the BART bond will be the least of our worries).
There is, however, a kernel of truth in the argument that the bond is back-filling a structural deficit in the maintenance budget. The Times scapegoats the “excessive” worker salaries for this deficit. That is incorrect as the deficit would exist even without recent pay increases. The deficit is the result of two structural problems.
The first problem is the long-term decline in gas tax revenues. For the past two decades, politicians at the State and Federal level have refused to increase the gas-tax. As inflation eats into gas-tax revenues, there has been a big decline in revenue to support transit operations. This has forced BART and other agencies to use creative accounting and borrowing to shore up finances — but that can only go on for so long.
The second problem has to do with the design of BART itself. The low-ridership extensions into far-flung suburbs are a huge drain on finances. Unfortunately, the BART bond exacerbates the problem by providing $350 million for the construction of new parking garages. Subsidizing auto-centric development around the peripheral BART stations is not the solution to the suburban ridership problem.